Federation-Apocalypse Session 125 – The Green Green Hills Of Aerth

   Inversion, Berlin, The Chief Persecutors Office:

   Kevin sighed and carefully stowed away the transformed Chief Persecutor and his aides. They could change them back when they were someplace safer… There didn’t seem to be anyone much save for victims in the entire dimension! What could Merlin possibly WANT with the place? The amount of magical power he had to be expending to hold the realm this far out of it’s pattern against the massed will of it’s inhabitants – even if that will wasn’t fully aware or properly focused – had to be immense. Had that been what he’d manipulated the mages Guild of Baelaria into building the Sunwell for? He’d thought that it had been an attempt to find a magical substitute for mana, but what if it was just a power supply intended to make it easier to gather the real thing from Inversion while Merlin had conducted experiments with Arxus?

   There was no way of knowing yet – but Inversion reached out to him, a voice in search of a throat to hold it and a tongue to set it free. It was NECESSARY that he speak at that trial.

   Kevin, Marty, and Spellweaver reviewed their plans, such as they were. They had the information on the courtroom, it’s procedures, and what was expected of the Persecutor (Kevin), his aide (Spellweaver), and his Bodyguard (Marty), their abilities were throughly cloaked, their disguises were good (what with the illusions, witchcraft, and shapeshifting), they had the legal stuff programmed into their smartclothes if they needed prompting, and the Thralls were in place to make SURE that the broadcast went out, and were ready to record on their own smartclothes and rebroadcast from the moon if necessary. Xellos was a wild card of course, but he was more or less on their side. When you cane right down to it, the Mozaku were just as dependent on humans as everything else in the Manifold, no matter how much they hated to admit it – and it was no surprise that some soul had taken up a role as entertaining as Xellos anyway.

   Marty wasn’t sure what was going to happen – but whenever Kevin started driving determinedly towards some apparently-pointless location, it meant that SOMEONE was about to get kicked in some unexpectedly vulnerable and sensitive spot. He’d acted like that just before he’d pulled that stunt with Death, or when he’d pushed the Nightlord into realizing that he NEEDED humans – and the only worthwhile targets around here were “God” and company. He wouldn’t miss that for a private theme park! He wasn’t going to blow this one off when he could help kick “Gods” ass out of this dimension!

   The courtroom was a busy place. The state news reporters were set up, the guards were numerous, and the audience seemed to be a bit stacked against the defendant.

   Well, that was rather as expected. A lot of power-auras too. Quite a few members of the audience appeared to be Landsknecht in disguise, as were several of the guards. The defense attorney, judge, media, and most of the general staff appeared to be normal people, although the likelihood that they were sympathizers was pretty high. No apparent vast power-auras, and Kevin felt that – now that the trial was going to be pure show – the odds of “God” putting in a personal appearance at 50-50 at best.

   They took their places. The show must go on!

   Hmm… Security. All the disguised Landsknecht of course, lots of people with stunners, pistols, and a trio with rifles. The Landsknecht appeared to be unarmed, although a few were wearing heavy armor of some sort. One person in the back had an item wrapped in cloth nearly six feet long and rather flat. He was wearing a large coat. Inversion wasn’t an anime universe, so that was probably some kind of high-tech rifle or missile launcher. On the other hand, who knew?

   It did look like they were very prepared to deal with their defendant.

   Kevin checked with his lunar Thralls on the private links; the broadcast was indeed going out – although there appeared to be a time delay of approximately fifteen seconds, with plenty of annoying commercials and corporate sponsors.

   So. A second or two for delays in going to the moon, probably a couple in processing… It varied by up to plus or minus five seconds from channel to channel. Either some stations were not filtering the broadcast at all and there were seven or eight seconds in processing delays – not too likely – or there was the usual allowance for filtering out any really unexpected disasters or things that you weren’t supposed to broadcast.

   That should be easy enough to bypass if necessary.

   The trial started with the arrival of Serah – and an immediate focus on her by the media. Not too unexpectedly, she took to the spotlight readily. Still, her power was psionic; it was pretty unlikely to translate fully over broadcast media – or the moon would have been in trouble long ago. Still, she was pretty good as an orator and was charismatic enough. They could probably out-talk her – they had a lot of raw power to throw at things – but it would take an effort.

   She went into a long, “heartfelt”, speech about the security of the world and her obligation to the safety of it’s people.

   Interesting. It looked like she was either REALLY good at acting – and was good at the psychic camouflage too – or she really believed that she was working in the best interests of the people of Inversion… Also, Xellos had turned up in the back of the room discussing something quietly with some of the maintenance personnel while gesturing to the ceiling.

   Up to his usual tricks no doubt!

   Kevin and Marty hoped that Xellos wasn’t going to drop something on her quite yet; it would be inconvenient to get security in an uproar just yet. Still, knowing Xellos, he had probably arranged a sewage pipe rupture or something. Still, they couldn’t do much about it without making a revealing fuss. They weren’t supposed to know Xellos at the moment!

   The maintenance guy looked up, and suddenly looked horrified – clasping his hands to his head and looking back and forth from the ceiling to Serah. He was obviously having a hard time coming to a decision – and whatever Xellos was saying wasn’t helping matters… Xellos suddenly handed the man a piece of cardboard and a marker. The fellow took the cardboard and maker, wrote furiously – and then moved to be in Serah’s line of sight and held up a “Move Forward!” sign.

   Marty had to giggle to himself. Oh, this is going to be GOOD.

   Serah looked be ignoring him, and the media types were trying to keep him out of sight of the cameras – but then he gestured to the ceiling, and suddenly the media types were gesturing to her to move forward as well. With that, she stopped hesitating, and moved forward – without looking up and moving smoothly and effortlessly enough to make it look either natural or superbly choreographed. She’d made it about five feet when a large speaker fell from the ceiling and landed where she’d just been standing…

   There was a fearful feedback squeal that left everyone temporarily stunned and deafened. Worse, it looked like all the broadcasters had conveniently disabled all the feedback negation checks for some reason – doubtless Xellos. Across the world, the television sets had grabbed everyone’s attention… Thankfully, home viewers would be fine – except for a brief moment of pain and having to hold their ears. It even left the censors a bit disoriented for the moment – although order was restored quickly enough in the courtroom.

   Serah looked ticked, and was having difficulty recovering smoothly. They could see her trying to get the crashed speaker out of view while trying to keep her delivery smooth despite not being able to hear herself speak for the moment. She did surprisingly well… Whatever else she might be, she was a talented media personality. The maintenance crews swooped in quickly and quietly as she moved the cameras away from the wreckage.

   Marty considered. If they could deprogram her, they’d have a good PR person. They’d have to see what happened…

   Soon enough, her speech ended – and the broadcast cut to commercials. Serah then pointed to several people, gestured at her watch, and then makes a sign for the number 10. Those pointed to looked quite unhappy. It looked like… the maintenance guy with the sign, the head media guy, and the head of security, all to meet with her privately at 10 o’clock for an ass-chewing. That was actually quite refreshing, even if the three pointed out appear to be stewing most uncomfortably. It wasn’t even unreasonable – and it was about the first thing in Inversion which HADN’T been completely insane.

   Soon the commercial ended and the court proceedings continued… The defendant was brought in and a list of charges was read out. Unfortunately, Serah was still around – it was only about eight o’clock – but she promptly left as soon as the list of charges was read and the defendant was firmly seated and locked down, although she did whisper something to the head of security before leaving the room.

   Fortunately the smartclothes had some pretty good sound pickups.

(Serah) “Try not to allow anymore screwups. Should anything happen to this one, I shall hold you personally accountable. I will see you and the others at ten for the last one.”

   Now that was excellent! They’d be very reluctant to interrupt anything that didn’t look blatantly wrong!

   And it was time for the prosecutor’s opening statement. That was his cue…

   Kevin arose, and stood before the eyes of the world, and the massed power of a billion rebellious souls poured through him like a river of quagma, transmuting itself into creation. In the darkness was the rage of the oppressed, the wrath of the injured, and the vengeance of the bereaved. It was the force that drove the ascent – and from the darkness, light.

   “God” had asked for a rant against the powers of the Manifold. As always, the darkness would give them what they had asked for.

(Kevin, as the Prosecutor):

   Hear me my lord (he nodded to the Judge), ladies and gentlemen of the jury (he nodded to them), and those of you watching around the world (he looked squarely into the cameras).

   It is the right of all men to be secure in their homes and places, to be free to make their own destinies, to be free of persecution by powers from beyond.

   Outsiders have come to this world out of the “Manifold”. They have walked among you and amongst the nations, and they have wrought great harm.

   Here, at this trial, it is time to begin again, to reclaim your world and to set to right what has been done to you.

   You face one of the greatest challenges of any sapient race. To put right the errors of the past, to take intelligent responsibility for the cycles and processes your world, and to pass that world on to future generations as an ordered heritage, rather than leaving it’s system of checks and balances up to chance and unguided evolution.

   Those from outside – creatures with no loyalty to your world, and without the simple decency to allow you to manage your own affairs as you will – have undermined those efforts and diverted your resources until your world stands on the brink of destruction, balanced upon the edge of the abyss.

   I urge you to hear me, to stand united – and to reject those who have thus tormented you! This is your world – and here, against your massed wills and strengths, no power of the Manifold can stand!

[Gamespeak Interlude: With all his enhancements and short-term boosts focused on a single attempt, Kevin achieved an Oratory check of 86, wielding the powers of Tripled Mass Influence, Acclaim, Song of Power and Touch the Soul – all to unite the massed wills of the people of Inversion, to inform them of their options, and to let them alter their world on a global basis. The locals needed a focus, a way to transmute their power into something that would work in Inversion, and access to enough of the power of the Manifold to overwhelm the spells binding their world – all of which Kevin could easily supply. When the darkness was called, it answered – even if, unlike the light, it gave you what you asked for rather than what you truly needed.]

   The reality-ripple exploded outwards from Kevin at the speed of light, as the power surged into him, was transmuted, and blasted outwards again – now with form and purpose. Merlin’s spells might as well have attempted to contain the big bang; they vanished before the change like wisps of mist before an atomic blast…

   Xellos was impressed and amused. Were the Openers aware of just how much chaos they could cause? With a single speech the boy had ended a world – and created several others. Maybe he should try to introduce him to Lina and the others! Or perhaps the Lord of Nightmares…

   Marty didn’t have such broad mystical senses, but his links with Elera and Minel let him feel part of it. Now THAT was amusing! The kid really had a knack for finding just the right place to hit things! It was like those commercials with a singer smashing up a warehouse full of glassware, but with an entire world! When Kevin broke something, he really did it right!

   As they would later discover, Inversion had split, massively, under the impact. In place of the single, despairing, realm that they had arrived in, they now had a selection of very minor realms and…

  • Inversion Classic: A total reset to the original realm, now almost entirely populated by phantasms and open to the rest of the Manifold as normal – although no one there had any idea of that, since most of them didn’t really exist.
  • Inversion Semi-Classic: A realm which retained some minor advancements and improvements from the warped version, but which had reverted physically to the damaged-but-salvageable ecology setup towards the start of the series – and had pretty much locked out the Manifold. It might still be possible to slip into the place through the lunar realm, but it wouldn’t be easy – and any disturbance would result in a summary ejection. Whether for good or ill, virtually all of the several billion souls who’d been trapped in the warped version had wound up in this version – although many of them recalled the horror-version as some sort of terrible vision or as something they got helped out of. Eventually it might well merge with the Lunar Inversion realm (below), but that probably wouldn’t be for a rather long time…
  • Inversion Trial: A temporary and soon-to-collapse realm (thanks to having less than three hundred souls in total) into which most of the Manifolders – and their various bits of meddling – had been dumped when most of the people of Inversion had sealed themselves away.
  • Lunar Inversion: While the moon itself was virtually unchanged – still unified, still on a war footing, still playing host to Kevin’s Thralls and a few Manifolders, and still waiting for the kids to complete gate-mage training – they had seen a lightspeed reality shift propagating across the surface of the Earth, extending outwards far enough to change over everything in Low Earth Orbit and the bases of the Orbital Towers. It hadn’t reached out far enough to affect most of THEIR major orbital assets – but the abrupt change to a world that was negotiating lunar independence and which showed no real traces – or even memories – of “God” or of being at war (even if relations were pretty tense) was going to be pretty weird. The fact that the Earth now held the lower reaches of the Orbital Towers, while the moon still held the upper reaches, was going to lead to some interesting property disputes.

   That transformation was a considerable shock for the lunar leaders. Four visitors from the Manifold had expressed a desire to be helpful, and had transported themselves down to Berlin and a trial. They’d made elaborate preparations to ensure that some sort of speech was broadcast. Then one of them – the kid, it was easy enough to recognize that cheerily subversive tone, it was his agents that were ensuring that the speech was broadcast, and somehow they just KNEW – had made a speech, and transformed the entire planet – somehow involving everyone there AND on the moon in the stunt. They could FEEL that much…

   Their observers in Kadia had passed back the information that “Kevin” had supposedly created that world only a few months before – to serve as an afterlife for his followers no less – and that no one could die there, and that pretty much everyone there accepted Kevin as a creator god simply because he casually displayed deific powers. They’d known that “God” had powers more or less like theirs, albeit on a larger scale – and that Merlin could do some really impressive things – but this… Could that helpful kid actually be a genuine “God”? Had he simply decided to change an entire world to settle the war – or just to inconvenience his real opponents? Unlike “God”, Kevin didn’t demand worship… Was it that he – actually having divine powers – didn’t need to? Were they going to have to call in some theologicians to help out their scientists?

   Oh geez. The locals had just revised their dimension, thrown them all out, and locked the door behind them to keep them out. Were they going to have to get out through the legal drama realm? That would be a PAIN! Or were they locked in with “God”? That might ALSO be a pain!

   Kevin felt under-appreciated. Yeah. Go to all that trouble to help out, and what did he get? “Thanks! Now GET THE $@#! OUT!”. Nobody ever sent him a nice note or ANYTHING!

   Oh yeah, everyone in the courtroom – apparently almost all phantasms now – was waiting for him to continue. It did look like most of them were shocked and confused. He said something about how the defendant was a prime example of Manifolder interference, was undoubtably guilty, and needed to be dealt with most firmly on sheer inertia (even if he wasn’t feeling so inspired and was on a power-withdrawal drop at the moment) – and yielded to the defense so that they could make their opening argument.

   Serah came storing into the courtroom just about then.

(Serah) “What just happened?!”

(Kevin) “Ah, hello Serah. We were just making the opening statements… I believe it is now the defense’s turn actually – although there did seem to be a bit of a disturbance there.”

(Defense Attorney) “Indeed, and if you’ll excuse me, I’ll begin…” (Begins long legal speech)

(Kevin, Sotto Voice) “How have you been Serah? It’s been awhile.”

   Serah, throughly distracted and upset, didn’t really seem to register that familiarity – or much of what anyone else was saying.

(Serah) “Disturbance? The universe just fragmented idiot.”

   Marty gratuitously looked confused, mostly just to be obliging. Was it possible that they could blow up the world on global television and get away without anyone realizing who it had been? The mere possibility was just too good not to go along with!

(Defense) “Excuse me, I am busy trying to give arguments here.”

(Judge) “Yes, please sit down so the defense may continue.”

   Kevin, Marty, Spellweaver, Serah – and Xellos – withdrew to the Prosecution table. Kevin quietly drew a veil of silence around it. There was no need to be disrespectful of the judge.

(Serah, giving the Judge and the Defense Attorney a murderous look) “Stupid phantasms…. can barely think beyond the noses on their faces.”

(Kevin) “Well, that is their job.”

(Marty) “Hey, most of my good friends are phantasms!”

(Serah, momentarily focusing on them) “So you’re ensouled. Both of you it seems.”

(Kevin) “Well naturally… I take it you’ve spent a lot of the last fifty years hanging around here? And Marty, are you sure that that’s not because you drive most people who aren’t from your world quite nuts?”

(Marty) “I’ll give you that one”

(Serah, sighing and pulling out a communicator) “Yes, now time to take an inventory of who is left. This is Serah, we’ve had a sudden existence failure. Everyone able to respond to a code “Rapture” is to report in and inventory what we have left. Expect an assault by enemy forces imminently. Prepare to evacuate to the gate.”

   Marty was tempted to point out that they didn’t have any other forces unless Kevin wanted to send a few Thralls in, but he thought that the wild goose chase would be funnier.

   Kevin diagnosed shock reality shock, and being suddenly thrown out of a very well-established identity. Evidently Serah hadn’t quite realized that they WERE the “enemy” forces yet.

   Marty voted that they go along with it for the moment, and see how long it would take her to put two and two together. Besides… their backup was on the moon, and they did want to get to that gate. Trying to beat her there would be pretty problematic; it would be easy to just try and go along with her if they could. It might be fun!

   Several other people began to gather around, hovering just outside the zone of silence. Serah briefly tried to speak with them with no effect before smacking her forehead and walking outside the zone.

(Serah) “Grab the guy and let’s get out of here. We move out now.”

   Kevin, Marty, and Spellweaver quietly trailed along as one of the guards walked up to the stand, telekinetically grabbed the defendant, and wrapped him in many layers of shielding – against his protests. The judge began to protest mightily about them interrupting the court until Serah filleted him and knocked the guard aside to wrap the defendant in her own shields.

   Well, evidently “God” hadn’t seen fit to tell Serah that the real defendant had escaped – or something really odd was going on.

   The bailiffs and guards – of course – moved to intercept Serah and the others as they made their way out the doorway, but Serah’s own guards dispatched them in short order; pistols and stun batons were no match for several Landsknecht… Outside, the guards arranged themselves in a circle around Serah, her captive, and the rest of them (even if Xellos had vanished again. Oh well, that was normal enough even when he was present. It was that “immaterial and invisible” bit), and then generated a force-bubble and lifted off while Serah poked at a datapad.

   They headed south at high speed.

(Serah) “Heh, you can tell the place is beginning to collapse from lack of souls. Soon enough it will reset and merge back into the original. I guess it was only a matter of time before it finally snapped.”

   Marty looked outside to see what a dissolving realm looked like. It looked fairly normal really, at least for an Inversion-based realm… There was something off about it, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it, except that it did seem greener and wetter than he remembered – and there were no air tanks in evidence. Reverting rapidly to the original? Would they fall back into the near-empty base version next? Presumably there weren’t enough souls present to maintain a variant when the original was so close.

   Soon another group intercepted joined them… One of them took over the flit effect, and progress south was greatly accelerated; that fellow had great telekinetic prowess. Shortly they found themselves over the open ocean, feeling a slight chill in the air, and continuing to move southwards at high speed.

   Hm… Six avatars; the telekinetic was running the flight effect, and the summoner, the cyborg, the support guy, the telepath, and the absorber were all present and in formation. Well, that could be bad or convenient or irrelevant. They’d just have to see.

   They got intercepted by some local defenders – it looked to be more phantasms, there apparently hadn’t been any manifold infiltrators monitoring the gate – but the group left that sort of thing up to “God”. Why waste their time or reveal themselves?

(Lead) “Stop your advance! Identify yourselves and your business in the Antarctic State of Marie Byrd.”

(Avatar) “We seek passage to the town of Avesbury and mean no harm. May we pass?”

(Lead) “Why do you hold one captive? Is he a prisoner of yours?”

(Avatar) “Indeed, this man is a traitor to humanity and has been properly subdued, we are currently seeking evidence of his crimes and are tracing his path back to here. Will you allow passage?”

   There was much conferring – but eventually a decision was made.

(Lead) “Very well then, we will allow passage, but you are to remain escorted for the duration of your stay.”

   Well, that got them an escort.

(Serah, looking to the telekinetic avatar) “Is it really necessary to do this?”

(Avatar) “Well, the sooner we engage in a fight the more people we will have to fight on our way to the gate, I would rather avoid that with our guest in tow. Besides, I thought you were the people person Serah.”

(Serah) “If the gate is still there even. And yes, I am the more social one, but explaining myself to phantasms is a waste of time, they aren’t even smart enough to realize what’s going on.”

(Avatar) “Oh come now, you are talking to a phantasm right now.”

(Serah) “No, I am talking to you, not this shell you like playing in.”

   Soon enough they found themselves hovering over a small community. Save for the weak light – apparently semi-perpetual twilight – and the GPS coordinates their smartclothes were providing it looked like a fairly normal place. A crowd had gathered and was staring up at them.

(Serah) “The bunker isn’t here.”

   Marty looked at his prosecutor “boss” questioningly, as if to say “Bunker?”, but Kevin just had to shrug. Still, the byplay helped keep the conversation going… Who knew? There might be some really good information coming up!

(Avatar) “Patience, the scanner shows the gate to still be there. It’s just under a quarter mile of rock is all. The rest of you are to take over the telekinetic effect, I shall open the path. Be prepared for interference.”

   The telekinetic avatar floated to the ground, wandered around for a few moments looking at a scanner before putting it away and raising his hands… The resulting explosion was cataclysmic. The shockwave was stunning even through the force-bubble surrounding them. The world around them had gone completely dark, and a faint sound of rumbling could be heard all around them. The shield appeared to be taking a hammering, and the ones holding it up were straining hard.

   Well, the Avatar WAS blasting out a great deal of rock there.

   As the dust settled and the view cleared, it became apparent that the town and the surrounding landscape were completely gone. In their place there was a massive crater that dominated the land. Smaller craters were forming all around as debris continued to fall and make more holes. The sky had taken on a deep red color.

   Marty was impressed. When “God” created specialists, he really created specialists!

   Kevin suspected that working through a phantasm allowed him to generate a boosted local ID on top of whatever powers his avatars had initially. That could get pretty potent…

(Another Avatar) “Looks like the local Landsknecht were caught unprepared. Good, we didn’t need the trouble they could have caused. Shall we descend?”

   The other Landsknect recovered from their own shock, and dropped them down into the center of the crater. An object looking like a stargate was down there, and was activating.

(Serah) “Merlin is going to be upset with these events.”

(Avatar) “Merlin can be upset, we’ve gotten enough souls from here to satisfy the next goal. The loss of the industrial base and the Praetorians was unfortunate, but we both knew it was a gamble to begin with… Our next priority is making sure the transference goes successfully. If that happens, then resources cease to have any real meaning. This is the Manifold after all.”

(Avatar, as the Stargate powered on) “Take our guest through and keep him safe, I’ll stand watch in case anyone tries to interfere or some of the others need rescue. The rest of you are to follow after she is through.”

   Well! It looked like blowing up the world wasn’t enough to stop their infiltration mission! Kevin, Marty, and Spellweaver proceeded through the gate… They might meet Merlin, they might be walking into immense trouble, and it was quite possible that “God” was onto them – but he and Serah might just be rattled enough not to be, and they hadn’t had many other good chances.

   As they passed through the gate, they found themselves in a large green field. There was bright sunlight, a forest in the distance, and a small stream off to one side. The smart clothes had ceased functioning…

   Would this be the Commonwealth? They did have a few agents there… Of course, it might be something quite alien… Kevin checked; no Thralls. Not the Commonwealth then; they did have a few agents there.

   Serah was heading to a small collection of rocks off in the distance. She had released the field on her captive, and he was following her.

(Serah) “I hate this place. It so favors them and their weird talents.”

   Weird talents? From a psychic mage? The local rules must be REALLY odd.

   They just stayed quiet at the moment. Even a big city prosecutor wasn’t going to know what was going on, and neither would his bodyguard. Besides… that digging out was kind of dramatic. Hopefully some valuable information would turn up. Besides… Kevin was having a hard time getting a feel for the place. It didn’t use magic – although magic was close in some ways – it looked like it just used raw mana manipulation, honed to a finer level than anything he’d ever seen before. A lot of raw power there – and very old and experienced power.

(Captive) “We are only guests here Serah, it’s not nice to be rude about their home.”

   Serah started laying out a blanket, and a picnic. She and the captive sat down and began to eat while the others settled down elsewhere… Soon an elderly looking man stepped out from behind a tree and walked towards the group. He looked at Kevin and Marty curiously for a moment before sitting down at the blanket with Serah and the former captive.

   At which point he began to sing a song of some sort. Something that gave Marty a vaguely tribal impression. Occasionally Serah and her former captive would say something back during one of the pauses… Serah seems very frustrated, but the captive was patiently talking and gesturing, making frequent gestures towards the gateway and explaining how the world broke into pieces on them. Evidently communications were difficult.

(Serah) “Why do you bother talking when speaking telepathically?”

(Captive) “Because it is natural and it helps me organize my thoughts. Besides it would look weird for the others to be talking to themselves in the bottom of a massive crater now wouldn’t it? I have to offload it somewhere, and here, where I AM talking to someone seems a reasonable place to do it.”

(Serah) “And if you are now talking to me, are you no longer speaking to him?”

(Captive) “Of course I am, I am just using one of the others to organize the thoughts. Right now he is having a conversation with a rock that tumbled next to him while focusing my thoughts for the telepathy here.”

   Well, the “Captive” was looking more and more like “God”, in person – at least like what little Kevin remembered from all those years ago (and his old photographs of his classmates). There was some sort of transformation going on. Still, at least “God” apparently hadn’t been paying attention during the “trial”.

   Meanwhile, Marty was wondering… “Organize the thoughts?” What was up with that? Didn’t telepathy work fine on everybody?

(Captive) “Hold on, I’ve got a bunch of Landsknecht showing up. If you don’t mind Serah, I am going to have to continue my conversation with our host locally instead of offloading it.”

   “Offloading?” Distributed processing? An incompatible mind that was forcing “God” to use multiple brains to help handle the load?

(Serah) “Fine, you really need to work around that flaw of yours at some point.”

(Captive) “Geez, this coming from the conversation specialist. Not all of us have intimate mastery of talking with everything including the spirits of black holes.”

(Serah) “That was an accident and I thought you promised never to bring that up again.”

   Marty figured that they were in break room mode, and walked over cautiously.

(Marty) “Excuse me, but where are we?”

(Serah, looking seriously annoyed) “Alright, we are no longer in the human manifold. This manifold belongs to one of the near human variants from prehistory. This elderly man is one of those near humans. Homo Sapien Neanderthalus I believe is the scientific name.”

(Marty) “Wait, what?”

(Serah) “Well they had souls much like we did, and ideas of their own for how life should be. It makes sense they had their own manifold out there.”

(Marty) “I see where you’re going. So they talk through singing?”

   Ah, cavemen. Marty never thought he’d see one. Back home, they thawed out sometimes, but very rarely in America. Security agencies backstabbed each other to hire them.

(Serah) “Apparently, their language centers aren’t built the same way ours is. Something about being before the circuitry for music and language were separated.”

(Marty) “Huh. So how do you bridge the gap?”

(Serah) “It’s harder to communicate with than with true aliens, as the brain keeps trying to force the nearly identical pattern to fit the language or music centers. You have to learn to separate and integrate the two mentally to have any chance. I have no idea if the original humans did it this way or just couldn’t talk to them.”

(Marty) “Anything else you can tell me about dealing with them?”

   Kevin had an idea there… He had multi-tracking to let him focus on up to seven things at the same time. He tried a double translation charm and some receptive telepathy, with more channels to try and integrate them.

   It took five (and a lot of magical boosting and witchcraft). There was holistic thinking, really weird ideas about the manifold, almost all of them were powerful reality editors (although they didn’t see it as such), and they were badly in need of souls.

   That eventually patched him in. “God” and Serah didn’t seem to notice him on the channel, but the mystic did…)

(Mystic) “And hello there young human. You seem to be in a similar predicament to your companions. Have you come asking for our assistance?”

(Kevin) “I don’t believe so… Or at least I wasn’t aware of it. We were intending to be here to find out what was going on. What predicament would that be?”

(Mystic) “You appear to have been bound and damaged by another and it is altering your self. You seem to have coped better through the use of your own bindings though… We can help you with that, communing with the One can help to break the need for such bindings.”

(Kevin) “Hm. I wasn’t really aware that it was doing damage or altering my self particularly.”

(Mystic) “Then I pose this question to you young one, do you feel the urge to engage in behaviors others find to be distasteful? And have to let this urges run wild for a time periodically? Do you feel the need to…..(hard to translate bit here) justify your actions to others and yourself?”

(Kevin, after reflecting for a moment). “Oh, sometimes – but I’d always thought that self-justification came with being human.”

(Mystic) “Perhaps, and that may be what separates us from you, despite these… difficulties in sharing. But we take a different view on everything. To be yourself is the only true way. To deny yourself, to justify actions that you dislike, and to let others define who you are is suggesting that you are damaged. To be whole, you must simply be.”

   Ah. Sort of like a zen thing. Still, it wasn’t exactly like he had any reason at all to trust these people yet. If he needed help – which he had to admit was possible, although he rather thought that he was needed at the moment – he’d turn to the Church first. Maybe later…

(Kevin) “So why do you need extra people here?”

(Mystic) “We have not had children in a long time now. Surely you must understand why we feel this a tragedy?”

(Kevin) “Like the Singular bunch?” (He sent impressions).

(Mystic) “We seem to be suffering a similar malady yes.”

(Kevin) “Too long outside of reality perhaps? Have you tried a simple visit there? You’ve been away a long time.”

(Mystic) “Our ability to form links to your realm of fertility has waned. We can form links to your realms, but navigating there has proven most difficult save those that have spent a long time there like the one you call Merlin. I am told he has come up with a solution to our problem though in exchange for us helping these two.”

(Kevin) “Hm. By “links” do you mean gates? Or is it impossible to make the attunement once you’re there?”

(Mystic) “Yes, I believe gates is your term for it. Forming gates to human realms is quite difficult given how different you’ve become. Forming one to the place you call “Core” has proven impossible for a long time now.”

(Kevin) “Well, I could give it a try. It would be easy enough from that world we came from, it might be harder from here – if this place actually exists as anything other than an illusion-interface to allow us to communicate better. Does it?”

(Mystic) “It does exist, in so far as any realm does.”

   Hm… Id did seem to be operating under rules that were quite different from those of most human-based realms, and was being accommodating to “guests”. A different kind of logical basis. Reductionist approaches did not work very well in it…

   That was WEIRD.

   Kevin considered. He could try setting up a Gate to Greenwald. After all, no one else was using it at the moment.

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